On a March night in 2002, after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 30 people during a Passover Seder at Netanya’s Park Hotel, prime minister Ariel Sharon told his army and intelligence chiefs that he wanted to deport Yasser Arafat to Sudan. The suggestion came up during consultations on operational plans for an IDF takeover of the West Bank, former Mossad head Ephraim Halevy revealed on Sunday.
“I won’t go into the tactical elements of the plan,” Halevy said at an Institute for National Security Studies seminar in Tel Aviv, adding, however, that each of the officers and commanders in the room opposed the notion.
In October 2002 the Maariv daily revealed that IDF special forces had prepared a plan to deport Arafat to a distant and desolate patch of land in a coastal Middle Eastern state. MK Ahmed Tibi, in an interview with al-Mustakbal one week later, said the Israeli plan was focused on Sudan and added that he had submitted a formal request for information to the prime minister.
The Netanya attack, carried out by Abed al-Basset Udeh, a Hamas suicide bomber, came on March 27, 2002, and marked the apex of the Second Intifada.
Sharon received word of the devastating attack in the middle of a Passover Seder at his ranch. “My father was livid, and he let that be known in his conversations with the army officers and other high-ranking security personnel,” his son, Gilad Sharon, wrote in his memoir of his father’s life (full disclosure: this reporter translated the memoir to English).
Israel had attempted something similar several years before with the heads of Hamas. On October 16, 1992, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin ordered the arrest and deportation of 415 senior Hamas members to Lebanon. The move, approved by the Supreme Court at the last minute, was criticized internationally and, after roughly one year, during which they received advanced training, the Hamas members were returned to their homes.
Arafat himself had run PLO operations from Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia before being allowed to enter the West Bank and Gaza Strip under the Oslo Accords.
Operation Defensive Shield, the IDF’s response to terror emanating from the Palestinian territories during the Second Intifada, entailed an IDF takeover of each of the major cities of the West Bank and essentially marked the end of Arafat’s freedom of movement and ability to rule.
Halevy, speaking at a conference on intelligence work in the modern age, and referencing the fact that intelligence officers are at times used by political leaders, implied that Sharon was well aware that the notion would be shot down by the security officers.
“For him it was a win-win situation,” Halevy said, explaining that, after the Sudan discussion, the military mission was authorized without debate and the more controversial measure of deportation had, at least, been spoken aloud.